It's 2:32 a.m., Detroit. Do you know where your Tigers are?
Well, the 15,000 or so fans at Tiger Stadium who stuck around for the finish of Saturday's after-midnight doubleheader with Boston knew that their team was in first place in the American League East, three games up on the Red Sox. This was a rather surprising and sudden—if a nine-hour twin bill can be called sudden—turn of events, and the men, women and children who pulled the all-nighter were at once giddy and puzzled. Great going, Tigers. But who are you?
"People think of us as a bunch of no-names," says Detroit first baseman Dave Bergman. "And I guess we are. If the shoe fits, wear it."
"There are racehorses and there are plowhorses," says Doyle Alexander, the team's cagey righthanded pitcher. "We're plowhorses."
As of Sunday, the plowhorses were still three games up on the racehorses belonging to the Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Detroit took four out of five from the too-hot-not-to-cool-down Bosox, and Boston had to go 10 innings in the finale to avoid a sweep. As Red Sox manager Joe Morgan said after loss No. 4, "The worm has turned."
When the Red Sox arrived in Detroit, they had won 19 of 20 games under Morgan and had moved from nine games out at the All-Star break to a tie for first place in just 20 days. Way back on July 24, when the Red Sox were just beginning to roll, Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, who is really the most recognizable star on his team, confessed, "You can smell 'em [the fast-gaining Bosox] like you can smell onions."
When the showdown began last Thursday, most everyone, save the Tigers, expected Detroit to be smothered in those onions. The Tigers had not been hitting lately; their on-base percentage since the All-Star break was .310, or 10 points lower than Boston's batting average. The best RBI man on the Red Sox, Mike Greenwell with 88, had 40 more than the Tigers' best, the versatile Venezuelan infielder Luis Salazar, who wasn't even in the lineup because of a slump. In an effort to get more offense for the Boston series, Anderson shook up his lineup, putting Bergman, who had never batted cleanup in his 13 major league seasons, into the No. 4 spot and Dwayne Murphy, a retread centerfielder just up from Toledo, where he batted .220, in No. 5.
With a quick glance at the two lineups, any armchair manager could see that only two Tigers, shortstop Alan Trammell and catcher Matt Nokes, could crack the Boston nine. And the pitching matchup in Thursday night's game was certainly racehorse vs. plow-horse: Roger Clemens, 15-5 with a 2.24 ERA, against the Tigers' Walt Terrell, 5-8 with a 4.14 ERA.
Actually, Anderson made his first strategic move of the series on Wednesday afternoon in Kansas City. On his suggestion, the Tigers flew all five of the pitchers who would start against the Red Sox back to Detroit, some 12 hours ahead of the rest of the team, which would take a post-midnight charter after the game with the Royals. "Getting in so late," said Anderson, "can screw a pitcher up, not so much the next day, but the day after and the day after that."
Flying ahead didn't particularly help Thursday's starter, Terrell, because he stayed up until 3 a.m. anyway. "I watched a few ball games on my dish," he said. "And then The Untouchables."